Have you ever heard someone’s voice trail up at the end of a sentence, as if they were asking a question instead of making a statement?

This is called “uptalk” and I hear it all the time, especially at conferences. I often hear it when people introduce themselves, whether they are speaking on a panel or asking a question from the audience. Click on the above video to hear an example.

Think about how quickly you form first impressions of someone. If speakers seems to be questioning themselves, they undermine their authority and credibility. This can be very dangerous, especially if they are trying to convince an audience to take action on crucial issues.

Uptalk isn’t limited to the United States; while teaching public speaking in East Africa, I heard uptalk everywhere – nearly 80% of speakers used it extensively, whether they were North American, African, or Asian. In some countries, uptalk is simply an accent. It’s not indicative of an underlying insecurity, rather it reflects the linguistic tones of a foreign language. Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, writes an excellent blog post consolidating different views on the subject.

So while we can’t say that uptalk is always bad, we can make sure that every time we use it, it’s appropriate to our cultural context and it’s intentional rather than automatic. And I think we can agree that it has no place when we introduce ourselves.

To avoid uptalk, first find out if you use it: write a 30-second elevator speech introducing yourself to a potential audience (at a job interview or networking event). Take out your smart phone or tablet and record yourself giving that speech, then play it back and listen for uptalk.

The more you are aware of uptalk, the more you will control it.